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Brexit, project fear, brains, racism inequality and the other

Many of us are shocked to the core by the referendum result, and even more so by the campaign and the way it was conducted, especially its racist undertones. In many ways this was a protest vote, and whatever his weaknesses Corbyn has understood that inequality, uncertainty and the increasing power of smaller elites has impacted powerfully. What the left seem not to have learnt from its history lessons is how at times of serious crisis people become inward and conservative and indeed, often xenophobic and distrustful of the other. This makes more sense when we understand just what fear, anxiety and anger does to the brain.

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Prejudice as a defence against feeling bad

An interesting new study in the April edition  of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by  Professors. Jessica Tracy and Ashton-James of the  University of British Columbia has cast light on how feelings of pride link with prejudicial attitudes such as racism or homophobia.  In particular they found that people manifesting a hubristic over-blown pride are much more likely to show high levels of prejudice than those having an ordinary sense of feeling good about oneself from a more self-confident place.  The latter she calls ‘authentic pride’, which might derive from hard work and a genuine sense of achievement, and is  more likely to lead to a more compassionate and empathic attitude to others. Yet the kind of pride which is based on hubris, and presumably geared to bolstering a rather fragile sense of self-esteem, one that is more arrogant and less genuinely self-confident, can derive from asserting oneself via less savoury mechanisms such as nepotism, money or domination. Such hubristic pride suggests a form of feeling good dependent on feeling superior and diminishing others. In many ways such studies simply back up traditional psychoanalytic ideas about defensive ways of managing bad feelings and the power of projective processes as a way of getting rid of such bad feelings in oneself by making others bad. Those with more authentic pride were not only more empathic but they harboured less prejudice.

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